Developing Your Talent

Develop Your Talent

What It Takes To Be A Great Mentor

By Lee Hecht Harrison on March 3, 2015

As baby boomers move toward retirement and millennials replace them as the largest US generation (representing one-third of the total US population), businesses must make the transfer of institutional knowledge a priority. And that’s not always easy. With slim training budgets, many organizations are ill-equipped to handle an additional—and massive—training initiative. Fortunately, a proven, cost-effective method for knowledge sharing is already available within organizations: mentoring.

A mentor provides career advice, introductions and networking contacts, insight into the company culture and constructive guidance. Mentors also facilitate the exchange of skills, ideas and information, helping the organization with informal onboarding and development activities. Importantly, mentors should be prepared to act as advocates for mentees—helping them build relationships with key decision makers and counseling them on work performance issues.

To institute a successful mentor program, organizations must identify mentors who model professional behavior and are committed to devoting the time necessary to develop a meaningful and constructive relationship with their mentee. Here are three of the top qualities of an effective business mentor:

  1. Excellent listening skills. Mentors must be able to demonstrate active listening techniques: leaning into the speaker, establishing eye contact and nodding in acknowledgement. They must also be willing to resist the pull of the phone or email during a mentoring session, instead focusing their attention on the mentee.
  2. Ability to provide constructive feedback. An effective mentor is comfortable giving constructive, meaningful feedback, balancing praise, criticism and advice. Feedback may augment any coaching the mentee’s manager may provide, or fill a void in cases where feedback from the manager may be lacking.
  3. Responsiveness and follow through. Once the commitment has been made, mentors must live up to the expectations of the role by responding promptly to questions and calls and making good on promises to the mentee. These two characteristics build trust—the foundation of a mentoring relationship.

As the relationship matures, mentors have reported that their self-awareness also grows, making it easier to identify their own strengths and any weaknesses that could be holding them back. An added benefit for the mentor is the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment they gain from helping a colleague achieve his or her goals.

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